If there’s anything that the recent political climate has made clear, it’s the blatant partisanship in the media. 

Many could argue that partisanship in the media is the source of divisiveness in our country. Yes, most news outlets heavily lean to the right or left. But politicians, celebrities, and so-called “influencers” also utilize the media as a tool to impact the opinions of consumers. Although many people claim that these tactics are what’s tearing our country apart, this is far from a new phenomenon. It has always been a prominent source of corruption, misinformation, and manipulation.

Partisanship in the media has been a consistent issue, not just throughout American history, but world history.

During the renaissance, the town criers were tasked with reporting the news. However, they were obliged to only share the news that the king commanded. This was an early technique of spreading both misinformation and the now-popularized word, disinformation. 

Technology opened the door for a new, different, and more efficient form of media: the printing press. Since newspapers became a much easier method of spreading information, political parties started to fund the newspapers. This is, of course, an unethical practice. The newspapers would be skewed in whatever direction the funding came from. For instance, the LA Times was a republican-run newspaper. When Grover Cleavland won the presidency in 1884, the LA Times did not report the victory for quite a few days.

In the late 1800s, there was a sharp turn of events when all news outlets made the drastic switch to a no-bias format. Although this may sound like a better option than before, it actually led to decreased participation in important political events. Voter turnout dropped steeply by around 30% from the 1870s to the 1920s. The reason was that this new no-frills style of journalism fostered an attitude of bleakness and depression. Voters adopted a hopeless attitude of, “why even bother voting?”

In the early 1900s, radio broadcasting became the next major news source.

Through the Radio Act of 1927, congress legislated that broadcast licenses should only be awarded to radio broadcasts that served public interest. Home television followed not long after. In 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The FCC created the FCC Fairness Doctrine out of the previous Radio Act. This was in response to rising radio and tv popularity, which had  become the two most influential news sources for consumers. The Fairness Doctrine stated that any news reporting must share opinions from all sides of every issue. This was a great medium between too much bias and too little bias. It ensured that viewers got both the facts and opinions of an issue. In turn, viewers regained hope, garnered stronger interest in politics, and engaged in healthy debate.

Unfortunately, this doctrine was revoked under the Reagan administration in the late 1970s.

They cited that the Fairness Act violated the right to freedom of speech and hurt public interest – both reasons being simply untrue. The Fairness Act sparked public interest, raising voter turnout by more than 10%. It also exemplified freedom of speech by allowing all sides of an issue to state their case in fair deliberation.

Since the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine, news media outlets have been leaning more and more towards biases. Platforms like Fox News, MSNBC, and the New York Post are becoming more like opinion hubs than actual news stations. The problems lie in the consequences of how viewers receive the information. When news stations are publishing opinions rather than facts and statistics, the truth gets skewed. Viewers then get shunted further and further towards the right or left. It also begs the question, what is the truth?

The best way to decipher the truth is to cross-reference among the different news outlets and pick out the information that is consistent.

Much like panning for gold, viewers must obtain information from different areas and do their best to shake off the gunk to see what scraps of information are the same among all media sources. However, most media consumers prefer to obtain their information from only one source. This is where the divides from which our country is currently suffering begin.

Further, most viewers choose to base the content they consume on where their opinions already lie and not seek out information from other sides. Somebody who considers himself to be more conservative will gravitate towards Fox News, while someone else who considers herself to be more liberal will turn on MSNBC. Rarely do these people cross-reference among the different news outlets. They stay with the stations that are telling them what they want to hear as opposed to straight facts and different sides of an issue. This digs the divides deeper, often by the very people who complain about our country being torn apart.

Through all the muck, there are still news stations that have persevered in less-biased broadcasting.

Among the most reliable are ABC News, CBS, and NBC. In the mixed zone are MSNBC, The New York Post, and The Washington Times. Fox News, Daily Wire, and, paradoxically, Bipartisan Report are rated as some of the least reliable. You can see the full chart of station ratings here.

Additionally, as many people learned from The Social Dilemma on Netflix, it’s not always the fault of the consumers. Specific ads and news articles are targeted towards people living in specific areas of the U.S. The ubiquity of cell phones, virtual assistants such as the Amazon Echo device or Google Home, and other electronic devices create an even further snag. These smart devices actively listen to us and choose the content they want to feed us according to certain keywords that we speak out loud. Social media platforms pay attention to links that we click or subjects that we search and will send a deluge of ads and articles based on those perceived interests.

So, despite the fact that the average person is fed a steady diet of subliminal messaging, we as consumers need to be smarter than our smart devices.

We need to take responsibility for the information that we imbibe. It is more important now than ever in our history to make an effort to seek out information other than what is easy and readily available. Everyone connected to the internet is being brainwashed and must take action against these unethical practices.

The story about the LA Times not announcing Grover Cleaveland’s presidency reminds me of a similar situation regarding a recent presidential election. The fact that news outlets not only get to pick and choose what parts of the truth to tell, but skew those truths based on their own beliefs and prejudices is a major flaw in the democratic structure of our country. This means that we must find a way to beat the system; be above what we are told to believe. Awareness is the first step. The next is active participation – it just takes a little extra effort. Are you willing to be the change that our country needs?

 

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